What is Augmented Reality?

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Augmented reality on an iPhoneWhat would you say if tomorrow, when you wake up and look through your window, you will see that your next door neighbour has just tweeted about his new dog and that your car parked outside needs some new tyres? You could get all this information and much more if your window has built-in augmented reality (AR) technology. But what is augmented reality and why has this concept been unknown until a couple of years ago?

With so many technical definitions for augmented reality which make sense only for technology enthusiasts, it is no wonder that most people still don’t fully understand it. As Maarten Lens-FitzGerald (co-founder of Layar – the first augmented reality platform) declared in a recent interview for 2WAY Summit, augmented reality can be seen as “reality enhanced with digital information, preferably immersive”. For a more visual explanation of AR have a look at CommonCraft’s video which does a very good job on this topic.

Even if this video talks only about using graphics to enhance the reality, AR can be much more than this in the same way in which our reality perception does not only relate to what we see. Sound, smell, taste and touch are all elements that could be used to augment our reality. Most of these are only in the experimental stage but we never know what tomorrow might bring us.

Like many other consumer technologies out there, augmented reality started to be used about 20 years ago in the defence industry, for pilots’ head mounted displays, to provide live stats about their plane. The massive production costs meant that for a long time this technology was inaccessible to the commercial sector.

American Footbal First Down Line
The first down line from American football which does not exist on the real pitch

Then sports television adapted this technology to their needs. Watching football, cricket, tennis or rugby with the help of AR gives us the chance to examine more carefully what happened/ what is going to happen in different situations – offside line, the relative flight of a ball, the movement of backs and wingers.

However, it was only a couple of years ago that AR really took off in the public arena, when the computer power available to consumers reached a level capable enough to support this technology. Laptops with built-in cameras and high-end graphics and smartphones with internet access have been the main drivers of augmented reality. In the same time, developers took advantage of the popularity of Flash supported devices to create widely accessible AR applications.

The reactions to the first AR commercial applications (mostly marketing-based) generated important press coverage and transformed augmented reality in the ‘gold pot’ everybody wants to get their hands on, even if nobody is sure what the return would be in the long term.

The world of augmented reality is still small and the ways in which this technology will affect our lives are still intensely debated but one thing is for sure: AR is here to stay.

What do you think about augmented reality? How do you think AR will influence our lives? I would really like to hear how you imagine augmented reality will be used in the near future, so think about the possibilities and leave us a comment in the box below.

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